Virtua Tennis 2009 – the PS3 Attitude Review
As an integral part of the sports-gaming genre, the game of tennis has graced consoles for as long as we can remember. In fact, with its paddles, “ball” and monochrome aesthetic, one could argue that the illustrious and archaic Pong was the first in a long line of tennis titles.
Fast-forward a few decades, like a triumphant tennis maestro returning to Centre Court, we have Sega’s newÂ Virtua Tennis entry, accurately appended with a “2009” tag.
With 2009 now the latest edition in the beloved series, Virtua Tennis has been a stalwart sports sim on consoles since its emergence back on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000. Of course, a lot has changed since those heady days of 128-bit serving and volleying. With this generation’s near photo-realistic graphics, ubiquitous online options and numerous other advances in game-play and design, you’d expect Sega to serve up a vastly enhanced rendition of the popular title.
But have they? Looking at the amount of detail and copious game options available we’d have to say yes and there’s no doubt Virtua Tennis 2009 is a solid and enjoyable tennis sim. But, and there’s always a but, we just feel there is a lack of innovation in the perennial update that suggests that – though Sega have produced a great game for tennis fans – they may not necessarily have made a significantly new one.
As with most sports titles, Virtua Tennis 2009 takes what us mere mortals find impossible; whether it’s throwing a ball, dunking a basket or scoring a goal etc., and puts that sublime power in the hands of the unfit layman. Â If you’re looking for intricate nuances and a chance to show off your amazing gaming skills however, the new Virtua Tennis may not be what you’re looking for. At its heart, Virtua Tennis 2009 is an arcade game. This is not meant as a slur of course as there’sÂ a lot to be said of the joy from picking up a game and being able to simply jump right in. Choose the instantly accessible ArcadeÂ (there’s that word again)Â mode for example, point your eager and fit player at any ball and, after pretty much pressing any of the buttons on offer, you’re sure to see a return worthy of any flawlessly clad pro. Should dishing out thundering fore-arm smashes and deftly weighted lobs be that easy though? We’re not too sure.
Paradoxically, the game is both amazingly deep and conspicuously shallow at the same time. The control system is so simplistic you’ll be taken aback by the limited options available when it’s your turn to return some well placed balls. In fact, the PS3 controller has far too many buttons for what’s needed. With top-spin, slice and lob the only three shots available, you won’t need that pesky fourth face button. Not wanting it to go to waste however, you get a secondary slice option – just in case you’ve forgotten what button normally performs the move.
Strength of shot is determined by timing and direction dictated by pushing the analogue stick wherever you want to ball to go before striking. It’s amazingly intuitive and allows for some truly engaging rallies but it’s somewhat of a double-edged racket as, though exceptionally cordial for new recruits, you’ll quickly find yourself wishing there were ways to do fancy shots; maybe something that requires the shoulder buttons or finger-snapping combo patterns. Unfortunately, such avenues are just not available with the three shots in your armoury pretty much all you’ll ever need. That’s not to say there is no skill involved. Miss-time a shot and your player will stumble and send a weak return for your opponent only too happy to capitalise on. Hold the analogue stick for too long and your serve will receive a curt umpire call of “Out!”, though, if we’re being absolutely honest,Â it’s actually very hard to not get your serve in.
The game’s depth comes from the treasure trove of game options, mini-games, career modes and other avenues that unfold as soon as you create your character. The avatar creation process itself is well done with a morphing feature on par with that found in the likes of Home. In fact, we’d go as far as to say Virtua Tennis 2009 has a better beard repertoire than the online social experiment. There is a sense however that everyone might be a little poorly with skin tones possessing a sickly gleen but it’s a small gripe.
The World Tour career mode is a well-oiled and rewarding system brimming with options, milestones and even a tinge of strategy. You’ll start at position 100 and work your way up through the world amateur rankings before going pro and repeating the process. To achieveÂ tennis-glory you will compete in contests, hone your skills at the Training Academy (don’t worry, Tim Henman is there to guide you on your way – obviously not doing much since his decision to retire), get called up for your country by competing in the Davis Cup and sink pirates. Yes, the mini-games are back. All such activities will exert stress on your burgeoning tennis body however, so expect to take plenty of rest (energy replenishing vacations cost $2,000 – just like in real life) or risk facing a lengthy lay-up due to injury. Herein lies the strategic element as you find yourself skipping backwater tournaments in favour of practicing your drop-shot or fine-tuning that winning cross-court pass. It’s a comprehensive career mode that requires hours of investment in order to get your player to the top of his game and, with a multitude of trophies (both PSN based and the more traditional fair), competitions and a motley of (mostly) fun mini-games, Virtua Tennis 2009 will definitely keep you busy.
Apart from these career options, you’ll can alsoÂ take your well earned career winnings to the Tennis Shop and go crazy with more funky shades than you’ll know what to do with. Some of the items will improve your game (like a better racket) but there is literally an abundance of cosmetic items on display for the discernable tennis shopaholic. Don’t believe us? There’s even a trophy for purchasing over 100 items in the World Tour shop.
Graphically, it’s tennis, and, considering the game has one primary colour (depending on the playing surface) and looks fairly bland and austere in real life, the game’s rendition is suitably accurate. We should highlight the noteworthy animations though as they are very well done. With a procedural system in place determining how your player reacts depending on where he or she is on the court along with the position of the incoming ball, the game almost always appears fluid and fast-paced. So, though you can’t personally pull-off trick-shots and amazing feats of tennis wonderment, you should still expect to see balls hit from between players’ legs and fancy spinning reverse shots. It’s just a pity we can’t instruct our player to do such dazzling manoeuvres whenever we want. The likeness of real-life players is also exceptional with Murray, Nalbandian and Sharapova instantly recognisable and even showing off some of their well-known traits and mannerisms.
The game’s multiplayer offering is the expected riot of swearing and sweating as you frantically run to the back of the court in the vain attempt of returning an overhead smash. Four player doubles is a lesson in teamwork and should be mandatory for any company wishing to run a staff Team Building event. It’s also great fun with the obligatory “No, I thought you were going to get it!” exclamations a constant occurrence. We’d go as far as saying that the doubles option even rivals other recent favourite four-player experiences we’ve been having with Inferno Pool and Rag Doll Kung-Fu. With these three games and some good friends on board, you’re sure to have a great night. Finally, online multiplayer is also worthy of your time, though we shouldÂ mentioned that there are some shockingly good players out there already. Expect to spend your first few hours losing until you get the hang of the change of pace when you’re up against a real-life player who doesn’t know you and just wants to win.
We’d recommend Virtua Tennis 2009 to any sports and/or tennis nut. It’s a comprehensive, fun and well-made game. It does have its short-comings of course. The aforementioned arcade heavy controls, and the fact that we’ve never once hit the net, suggests a game that some might find a little easy. It does get tougher later on when you go up against the likes of a Nadal or a Roddick, but by then you’ll have unlocked all the secrets of ground-stroking and fancy footwork so dispensing of these tennis greats shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If you have Virtua Tennis 3 and are thinking of updating then it’s our opinion that there is not enough here to warrant an upgrade – unless you’re really a die-hard serve-and-volleyer and just have to have it.
Which leads us to believe that Sega and the Virtua Tennis franchise as a whole are at somewhat of a crossroads. Do they continue to produce an annual title with numerous tweaks and an assortment of new modes? Or do they take a monumental leap forward and implement a sea-change that sees the introduction of a more in-depth shot system – similar to how the likes of FIFA overhauls its control scheme every few iterations – in an effort to make the game-play more engaging?
It’s hard to tell and we’re sure many will embrace Virtua Tennis 2009’s simplicity and balk at the thought of making the control system more of a challenge. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if the franchise’s future is influenced by EA’s upcoming tennis title and how well that’s received. If EA go technical, and the title receivesÂ exaltationsÂ by fans and critics alike, don’t be surprised to see Viruta Tennis 2010 sport some more a few than subtle differences next time around.
In conclusion, and using the worst tennis analogy we can think of, Virtua Tennis 2009 is the equivalent of the game’s super-coach Tim Henman: competent, talented, never won Wimbledon. Just like Tim, the game is a worthy addition to any roster and capable of competing with the best sports titles out there. It just misses out on a few things that turns an astounding tennis game into a great tennis game – which is a little ironic considering it’s probably the best tennis title around at the moment.
Maybe we’re a being a little hard on it but, just as Tim will confess, you have to be tough on yourself if you want to be the best. Virtua Tennis 2009 may be at the top of the pile and far ahead of the current competition, but that’s not to say it can’t excel even further. Thankfully, we have no doubt that, with an emphasis on innovation and by perhaps taking some well-educated risks, Virtual Tennis 2010 could take the franchise to the next level and be the Federer of tennis titles. Not only can he win at Wimbledon, he did it five times.